2022 Review Of Books 8/12
I think it's fair to say that it's been a good month, reading-wise. I've certainly re-discovered my reading mojo and I've read some brilliant books. I decided to take a step back from everything writing related over the summer and just relax and spend some time with my family - I am after all, increasingly aware that time is rapidly running out to have that time with my eldest. In twelve months he'll be getting ready to go to university, so I've got to make the most of every opportunity to be with him while I still can! The result of this decision is that not only have I had a lovely summer with my boys, but I've also had a marvellous time slipping into different fictional worlds and I now feel ready and raring to get back to work in September. Plans are in place for both editing and writing and I'm really looking forward to getting back to my desk in a couple of weeks. I'm doing a talk for the Writers of Essex in a couple of days and although I'm understandably nervous about it, preparing for it has allowed me to cement some of my plans for the next twelve months.
Things are looking positive for the academic year ahead and I'm looking forward to getting back out there, writing, editing and selling books as well as reading them!!
Books read this month: 22
Annual total: 105
Don’t Tell Alfred – Nancy Mitford (the third in the ‘Pursuit of Love’ trilogy, I think this is the one that deviates most from the author’s own life and consequently, I felt more disconnected from it than I had with PoL and ‘Love in a Cold Climate’. It was still good, but Fanny was more annoying than endearing this time around.)
Before The Coffee Gets Cold – Toshikazu Kawaguchi (This was one James heard about on Radio 4 and thought I’d like. He was quite correct. It’s a bit bizarre and I struggled at first with the Japanese names [a lot begin with a K and I kept getting the characters muddled up] but I slowed down to give myself chance to get to grips properly with the characters and was hooked. It’s an intriguing concept and the plot raises more questions than it offers answers – the answer is often ‘that’s just the way it is’ - which can be unsatisfying, but in this case, I think it works as a plot device. It’s clearly not lazy on the author’s part, it’s a very definite choice that has been made. It’s not something writers are generally advised to do, but sometimes a bit of ‘rule’ breaking is both fun and effective.)
Every Shade Of Happy – Phyllida Shrimpton (Absolutely loved this book. Full review can be found here.)
Frost Falls At The Potting Shed – Jenny Kane (A worthy successor to the Mill Grange series. Really enjoyed it – full review will be published nearer to the publication date.)
The Days Of Abandonment – Elena Ferrante (audiobook. This was a Between The Covers recommended author and I had mixed feelings about it. I liked the idea of it, but the style didn’t really suit me and I don’t know if that was to do with the fact I was listening to it in small chunks rather than really being able to get properly into the story. Might give the author another chance at some point, but not one I’ll be rushing back to.)
The Girl With The Louding Voice – Abi Daré (another beautifully written book. It took me a few pages to get into the narrator’s voice, but once I’d done that, I was completely immersed in the story. Absolutely rooting for the narrator all the way through. Perfectly shows the contrast between rural and city life in Nigeria – no idea how accurate the portrayals were, but they felt very real. Really compelling story.)
Midnight At Malabar House – Vaseem Khan (Can’t remember who recommended this & had no idea it was the same author as the Inspector Chopra books, but it was a really entertaining read. Set in the years after partition, it’s a solid detective story, but with the added tension of religious and cultural difficulties faced by many Indians post-independence and partition.)
Out Of Sight – Elmore Leonard (I think this was recommended while I was doing the MA. It’s very different to my usual kind of book, but it was engaging until the final few pages where the ending felt a bit flat. It was completely inkeeping with both plot and characters but was much more reflective of the actual realities of life than such books generally are, which surprised me a bit. I’m not sure I’d actively seek out more of Leonard’s books, but it was an interesting read that was very much of its genre.)
The Dead Of Winter – Nicola Upson (one I picked up in Cornwall last year because it’s set on St Michael’s Mount and currently I’m a sucker for anything that allows me to pretend for a while that I’m in Cornwall. Latest Josephine Tey mystery and I loved it. It’s only been a year since I visited the castle and I now want to go back again because I want to see St Michael’s Chair and the chapel again. Lots of red herrings and false trails but again, it highlights some of the social problems of 1920s/30s London and this lifts it above the standard historical crime novel.)
Lanny – Max Porter (Graham Norton Book Club pick. Very different in terms of style and had to really slow down to read it properly. Didn’t particularly gel with some of the characters, but it was a very clever book. Perfect if you want something that’s just a little bit outside of the ordinary.)
The Goodbye Man – Jeffrey Deaver (spotted a friend reading this and thought it looked good. Second of this series that I’ve read and will definitely be looking out for more. Good solid thriller.)
Blackwater – James Henry (a gritty thriller set in Colchester. I got very excited when Brightlingsea was mentioned in the first few pages and it was seriously cool reading it and knowing exactly where all the action was taking place. It was also a really good read though! Nothing out of the ordinary, but a good thriller if you like the genre.)
I See You – Clare Mackintosh (another thriller – it was shaping up to be another good book, standard thriller, but the plot twist at the end I simply did not see coming. Yes, in hindsight there were odd hint dropped throughout the book, but not enough for me to have predicted the ending. I was most put out to discover that there is no sequel – it felt like there was definite potential for there to be, but then I guess if the ending is left exactly as it is, it’s way creepier than writing a sequel.)
Perfume – Patrick Süskind (no idea who recommended this, but it was an incredibly different story. Some bits felt strange and I didn’t like the main character, but that was kind of the point. The story is utterly bizarre, but oddly compelling and I’m glad I read it.)
Women Of The Dunes - Sarah Maine (split timeline story, which is one of my favourite genres but this one is slightly different in that whilst there are only two timelines, there are three separate stories being told. Made me want to visit Scotland again.
Take Six Girls: The Lives Of The Mitford Sisters – Laura Thompson (audiobook. I find this family endlessly fascinating and this book was no exception. It was good to read about the family beyond Nancy and Diana and I learnt a fair bit listening to it. As often happens with these books, there’s still more I want to know and it’s made me add more of Nancy’s books to my TBR list)
Dead Famous - Greg Jenner (a history of the concept of celebrity. At times fascinating, always entertaining and well worth a read, it opened my eyes to the fact that 'celebrity' existed long before the twentieth century. It's written in Jenner's distinctive style, complete with bad language and flippant jokes, all of which I loved!
Loki: A Bad God’s Guide To Taking The Blame – Louie Stowell (audiobook. Loved this as much as I did the first. Immediately looked up when Book 3 comes out and got very excited when I saw it was June… until I realised that we are well past June and we’ve got almost a year to wait for it! Loki is trying so hard to be good and he's definitely getting better at it, though he does still have his moments. Even though he's a god, he makes a very relatable child and there were moments where I genuinely just wanted to give him a hug. I also love that Heimdall and Hyrrokkin get developed further in the sequel - their attempts at parenting are both entertaining and heartwarming and it just goes to show that even the gods don't always get it right!)
The Dragon In the Library – Louie Stowell (audiobook. Listened to this in the car with Arthur on the way to West Horsley Place and it’s the quietest I’ve ever known him in the car. A definite hit and I’ll be buying him the sequel soon. I’m delighted as it’s another favourite author we’ve found, not just a good series in the Loki books. I think my favourite line was when one character (an avid reader) is told that it will take a week for a book he wants to come back to the library. A week? he asks, utterly dismayed. Do people really read that slowly? I laughed whilst feeling his pain and anxiety. This is why I love Louie Stowell’s books, even as an adult – they speak to me in a way that children’s books rarely do and that’s why they are so good. They’re not good children’s books. They’re good books full stop.
The Wreck At Sharpnose Point – Jeremy Seal (picked this up because I saw something about the vicar of Morwenstow when we first went to Cornwall and he seemed like an interesting character. The book was a bit challenging to get into at first because it flips between the author’s account of stumbling across the figurehead of the Caledonia and his subsequent research into the ship’s history and final, fatal voyage and his fictionalised account of that voyage. Once I’d figured out the structure of the book however, it was a fascinating read and I could totally understand how he’d got so desperate to find out about the crew. Sometimes, a story just grabs you and you have to follow it to its conclusion.)
The Lady In The Van - Alan Bennett (Should be heartwarming but isn't. Slightly comedic memoir about an eccentric old lady with dubious personal hygiene who lived on his drive for fifteen years. Makes entertaining reading but I suspect she would have driven me up the wall in real life!)
Pandora’s Jar – Natalie Haynes (audiobook. Absolutely in love with this book. It takes the women at the heart of many of the Greek myths and re-examines the stories from their perspectives. I adore Haynes’ style on her Standing Up For The Classics programme and here, her writing style is very similar. I came away from the book brimming with ideas about a potential short story collection and I love that yet again, a new book has been published that gives more of a voice to overlooked or misunderstood women. Haynes doesn’t shy away from the fact that some of these women are problematic – Medea springs to mind – but equally, they are treated with respect and their situations understood even when their behaviour is condemned. What I found fascinating was the sheer number of retellings and different versions that exist of these myths and how frequently even the most basic elements of them are changed, sometimes to suit a male audience or at the whim of the author.)
Book of the month?
Louie Stowell's books are always strong contenders for this title - they're brilliantly entertaining books, but they also keep Arthur quiet for a while, which is always a bonus! However, I'm going for a purely selfish choice this month. Natalie Haynes' Pandora's Jar was not only a well-written and narrated book, which kept both myself and my husband entertained on long car journeys, but it also filled me with inspiration for a short story collection of my own - always a thrill when I'm reading just for pleasure!